on being weird: Glastonbury as a journey: part one.
I guess it was a bad idea to arrive at the 40th Glastonbury Festival on Saturday afternoon, midway through the week and a day and a half into the official set-listing. This was the result of having little money at the time the tickets went on sale and being promised entry through some nefarious juncture, coalescing in my mind as a perfect opportunity too good to miss. Unfortunately as these things are want to do, it went a little tits up, meaning entry could only be gained on the aforementioned Saturday afternoon. Official Glastonbury guidelines will tell you that entry to the car park can only be made with an official ticket with which you then buy a car park permit, but through trickery, quick witted-ness, and general confusion we managed to elicit a parking space – rather less Derren Brown and more through accident, the second official believing that we had secured a permit from the first. As we left the car the sun had reached an oppressive high of 24 degrees centigrade causing violent ruptures of sweat to pockmark my white t-shirt with reservoirs of damp as we made our journey from the edge of the Blue car park to Pedestrian Gate C.
We met our good friend – the facilitator – south-east of the gate to which entry would be made and were presented with a pair of Easy passes between the three of us, the sort of passes used by workers who need quick access to the site. We were one step closer to our execrable goal – I have a real desire to clarify it in the sort of terms which suggest something abominable is going on, imagine the central character from the Tales of the Black Freighter storyline in The Watchmen if you will. Lies, deceit, cunning; these would be our only friends now. Nothing would hold us back. We took the remaining steps towards the gate, two of us with the passes, one waiting behind looking on, willing us with his every heartbeat. The two of us ushered each other down the slope towards the gate offering words of advice and encouragement, now we would have to separate. And so with tentative steps we moved forward and seeing our entry point made our move. After a few short steps I felt a tug at my arm, the man at the gate was pulling on my pass and motioning to security, I knew I was fucked. I muttered answers back to him in monosyllabic form; “yes, I work here”, “the pass was put on like this”, “I don’t know”, the sort of dry answers that would see me heading straight back out the festival gates as quickly as I had arrived. I looked doubtfully at them, time to redouble my efforts. I exclaimed something about how unfair it would be to force a worker to have to find another entrance in this cursed heat. They just stared back mockingly. With howls of laughter they began to pick apart my crude attempt at blagging; they squealed at the sheer size of the stretched pass around my arm, turned haughty at the suggestion that the pass would even get to that kind of size (they had been there for a week and their bands hadn’t even begun to look worn), and laughed at my poor exclamations – I about-turned and marched soberly away from the gate.
My friend had passed through to the other side now, all that was left for me was to remain standing with the third of our party as we waited for the reappearance of our contact. On arriving the ‘good’ pass was given to my compatriot whilst the contact and I discussed my fate; another easy entrance followed, and so as the contact disappeared to retrieve the pass I was left alone with only my thoughts to keep me company: What now, I wondered? What was left for me? There was talk earlier of a mysterious van driver who would be able to get us in ‘hassle free’ into the idyll that lay behind. But no, my fate was of a different nature. I would be allowed access but I must pay penance for my poor performance at the gate earlier. I would be stolen the tighter fitting pass back through the gate, and then would have to find my own way: my infamous travail had begun. From here a forced march through parched terrain using up my valuable supplies of warm water and straight vodka back towards the ring road and onward to Pedestrian Gate B.
Half a mile I was told, no a mile; ten minutes, no, half an hour; where would this godforsaken journey lead me, to what unknown plains would I have to cross to prove myself worthy of entrance. Would St.Peter be waiting for me there? I checked the sun’s position in concordance with my own, I approximated that it was nearing half three, at least half an hour had passed since I last saw my companions. Out on that lonely stretch of road purgatory had become a very real and visible thing – Glastonbury inside shining with all the light of heaven, and outside sweating workers were perspiring from the corrupting heat – and I alone would have to face the emptiness of it, for I knew that I had no friends out here. I kept reminding myself that if I could only press ahead then the world would open up to me and the music that pours over these fields would be mine. It’s a trite point but I knew that at 15:30 Wild Beasts were taking to the stage and that their own Limbo, Panto, an exposition in alignment to my own geographical and ontological position, was to be played out, as if somehow they were channeling my own curious energy, lost somewhere between the known and the unknown, the absurd and the serious. The thought played around in my head for some many minutes before signs of my destination appeared. Finally the great banner proclaimed that I had arrived at Pedestrian Gate B and with it the gathering clouds of doubt, now so much more prevalent due to my risible first attempt, appeared over my approach. I marched on carving a line through the crowds and picked out my target, on nearing I waved my wrist band in her direction conscious that this time I had a pass with pedigree, certain to assure success. She gave it a little tug and let me go, this time no repeals, no cautionary glances, no motioning to security. It was a positive, certified success. Except there was only one problem, through my rejoicing and delight I seemed to have missed the plain importance of the staff members checking the wristbands, they were merely a checkpoint before the great gates, a filter of sorts to weed out the weak and the wanting. Fortune was not on my side, maybe the day was to never be mine, another cautionary tale in Glastonbury’s folklore. I experienced a great writhing throughout my body, a bottomless pit of anguish opened up before me and a place in which no manner of prior knowledge came apparent. I would now have to lean on my own inertia to propel me through, like a runner hitting the wall, if I simply put one foot in front of the other the universe will find a way. And so here I am again, at a gate that will decide my destiny, to live or to die. I moved forward almost falling into the gate, I held out my arm, with vision now seemingly a blur the next moments came at me like a dream. The world became still as if in slow motion and only a notional feeling hit my brain.
Suddenly I was out the other side and the tumultuous din of the festival hit me, passers by nudged against me propelling me forwards and as I caught the sun appearing above a row of trees acting as a perimeter to a nearby campsite I realised that my fate was sealed. I reached for the phone inside my pocket and fingered at the screen bringing up the name of one of my comrades. “Destiny,” I said, “has befallen me brother. I have arrived.” We rejoiced and he confided his location so as to offer a place to meet and start our weekend adventure. I advanced, my gait noble and joyous, proud to be alive and free, and as Jack White provided the appropriate rhythm to my movements I felt the cool rush of illicit victory rouse my body onward to Monday morning.
Part one is a eulogy, a commemorative tale of all those who have ever sought salvation through pilgrimage to The Glastonbury Festival of Contemporary Performing Arts. Part two will deal with a different sort a journey, a reverie in midst of music, a sweet song of celebration to the triumphant poets and players who dwell within the festival site.